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Scientists suffer from ‘weirdos’ perception but schools must not neglect the subject, Suffolk expert says

PUBLISHED: 19:14 21 September 2017

Science lesson at Wilby Primary School in Suffolk. Picture: WILBY PRIMARY SCHOOL

Science lesson at Wilby Primary School in Suffolk. Picture: WILBY PRIMARY SCHOOL

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Science has been “left behind” at primary school and it is “disgusting” that it is taught at most UK schools for less than two hours a week, a Suffolk school specialist has said.

Science lesson at Wilby Primary School in Suffolk. Picture: WILBY PRIMARY SCHOOLScience lesson at Wilby Primary School in Suffolk. Picture: WILBY PRIMARY SCHOOL

Some 54% of primary school classes do not get the equivalent of two hours science education a week, a national survey found this week.

The proportion of pupils achieving expected standards in science dropped from 84% in 2012 to 63% in 2014, the latest national figures show. It comes after the science national curriculum test (SAT) was scrapped in 2009.

Scientist Victoria Fiebelkorn, the school science co-ordinator at West Suffolk College, which has launched a new pilot science experience scheme involving 12 Suffolk schools, said: “Science in primary schools is being left behind. Ever since the SATs science disappeared, there has been no incentive for borderline-interested teachers to carry on with science.

“It’s a subject that people think is scary and a bit difficult, but it is completely the opposite. Whatever we do in our lives, we do science. They are all doing science in the Great British Bake Off. Films like The Avengers, walking the dog, brushing your hair – everything revolves around science. We just aren’t used to recognising it.

Victoria Fiebelkorn, schools science coordinator at West Suffolk College. Picture: VICTORIA FIEBELKORNVictoria Fiebelkorn, schools science coordinator at West Suffolk College. Picture: VICTORIA FIEBELKORN

“We need to promote it to very young children in an exciting way. They need to get their hands dirty.

“There is such enormous pressure on schools now to produce fantastic SATs results. There is a great big focus on maths and English, whereas science is being merged with other subjects. Luckily, Ofsted is focusing more on science now.

“And because most primary school teachers won’t necessarily come from a scientific background, they have been brought up in a culture where science is something scary and difficult. But everyone is a scientist. We are now trying to promote it – Brian Cox but without the celebrity status.”

Reflecting on the survey, she added: “As a scientist, it is disgusting. It is just so completely wrong in my mind. Everything revolves around science, but we are not just used to recognising it. It’s a terrible shame for mine and everybody else’s children.

“What we do run the risk of is that we are in a culture where scientists are not trusted. They are seen as slightly suspicious, weirdos if you like – aloof and standoffish. But they are enthusiastic, dynamic people who really want to get out there

“We are on the cusp of revolutionary genetic engineering… people should have an open mind to understanding global warming. Our world will be a better place if children have these principles to debate every angle.”

The West Suffolk College pilot scheme she is leading has provided science equipment to 12 schools across Suffolk, including Whitton Community Primary School in Ipswich, to allow a practical experiment to take place every week at school.

Nationally, Katherine Matheson, head of the British Science Association, has raised concerns over “boring” science lessons. She believes children should conduct real experiments that relate to their lives, rather than “recipe-following” bunsen burners.

Nick Mayhew, science co-ordinator at Wilby Primary School near Eye, where around 50% of the school’s 60 pupils attend the weekly science after-school club, said: “Science is absolutely relevant – it links in everything we know about recycling, pollution, climate change, global warming, and children need to know about it.

“Our children also love learning about fossils, animals, space, dinosaurs, and should be getting at least two hours of science a week.”

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